Whidbey officials gear up for new marijuana law

The day when adults old enough to drink can also smoke pot without fear of handcuffs may be close at hand, or even here.

The initiative legalizing marijuana already has had an impact in Island County, even though it’s not set to go into effect until Dec. 6.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said his office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases that fall under the “safe harbor provisions” of the new law. Specifically, that refers to adults 21 years old and older who possess an ounce or less of pot.

Moreover, Banks said his office is throwing out current cases in which an individual was charged with pot possession, if the case falls under the safe harbor provision. He said there are about 12 cases that will be dismissed; the number of marijuana cases have declined abruptly a couple of years ago after state and federal Supreme Court rulings limited the ability of law enforcement to conduct searches.

Banks said his office could technically still prosecute those pot cases, since they occurred before the initiative was even voted on. But he said that would be pointless.

“I don’t think a jury is going to convict in this county given the overwhelming support for the measure,” he said.

Initiative 502, the measure to legalize marijuana, was supported by nearly 56 percent of Island County voters, according to the latest count. That’s just slightly ahead of statewide results, which have just over 55 percent of voters in support of legal pot.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said he hasn’t made any policy changes yet regarding marijuana, but he said deputies obviously won’t be arresting people 21 years old and older for possessing an ounce or less of pot starting Dec. 6. He’s invited an officer from the state Liquor Control Board, which will regulate marijuana, to talk with law enforcement officials on the island.

“Not to say I was in favor of the initiative, but now it’s important to move forward in a practical way,” he said.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Ed Green said he plans to meet with the city prosecutor when she returns from vacation to see how she wants to proceed with handling marijuana cases until Dec. 6.

“This does change the entire dynamic and changes the way we do law enforcement,” he said.

Brown points out that the medical marijuana law is still on the books; it allows people with a doctor’s authorization to possess larger amounts of pot.

Over the next year, the state is supposed to come up with rules governing the growing, processing and labeling of pot before sales to adults over 21 can begin. The Liquor Control Board will be charged with licensing growers and sellers.

The initiative creates a per se limit of blood THC level for driving under the influence. Since there is no breath test for pot, a suspect would have to undergo a blood test.

One selling point of the initiative is that the state will tax marijuana. An ounce of high-quality pot currently costs about $200 an ounce in Mount Vernon, according to a website, www.priceof, that a detective referred the News-Times to.

Both Brown and Banks said the main unanswered question is how the U.S. Justice Department is going to respond. The federal government could sue to prevent the law from being enacted since it’s contrary to federal law.

Brown said he’s not comfortable with this conflict between state and federal law and he hopes the federal government works with the state on how to proceed with enacting the initiative.

“I want definite black and white parameters in law,” he said.


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